Student-Led Conferences

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1; SL.4; SL.5
What You Need: Computers or tablets, digital tools
What to Do: Creating and presenting digital portfolios prompts students to own their learning. At Edmunds Middle School in Burlington, Vermont, sixth-grade students create and save their work in Google Drive throughout the year. Teachers Laura Botte and Katie Wyndorf show students how to save, tag, and annotate their best work in Evernote to document how each piece demonstrates grade-level learning.

In preparation for student-led conferences, students sort their annotated work and pull out examples that show success or growth. They write reflections on their progress and use apps such as iBooks and Book Creator to record oral reflections. Students consider the academic content and skills they gained and what they now know about themselves as learners.
“When students practice this year after year, they become skilled at discussing their strengths and challenges,” says Botte. “They discover the kind of learner they are.” The final digital portfolios include writing, videos, photos, art, and reflections.

At each conference, the student presents his or her portfolio to teachers and parents or guardians, explaining achievements, growth, and goals. Parents ask questions, give feedback, and celebrate their child’s accomplishments. “Students are put at the center of their own learning,” says Botte, while parents “get a new view of their child as a learner.”

Promotion Presentations

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4; SL.5; SL.6
What You Need: Computers or tablets, digital tools and apps, a projector screen
What to Do: Carolina Day School in Asheville, North Carolina, takes student-led conferences to the next level. Throughout middle school, students design and maintain personalized blogs in Blogger that showcase their work. After each project, students write blog posts to reflect on their progress toward academic goals and skills such as collaboration and creativity. In February or March, all middle school students lead conferences with their parents and teachers that focus on their growth over time.

At the end of eighth grade, students present their digital portfolios to their parents and teachers, with the intention of earning promotion to high school. They detail their achievements and synthesize their growth over the course of middle school, explaining how their learning and experiences have prepared them for high school. “We’re proud that our students are
able to speak with authority about their middle school journey and how they think it has prepared them for high school,” says Andy Lammers, eighth-grade math and science teacher and grade-level coordinator.

In the past, Lammers says, students compiled paper-based portfolios, but they did not place a lot of value on these binders stuffed with papers.

“We see much higher student engagement now that we’ve switched to ePortfolios and end-of-year presentations,” he says, explaining that students find the blog platform engaging and are motivated when working for an authentic audience.

Road Map for the Future

Standard Met: CCSS.Math.Content.7.EE.B.3
What You Need: Computers or tablets
What to Do: The end of the year is about reflection, but it is also a time to look ahead. In Ryan Gallagher’s middle-school math classroom at High Tech Middle North County in San Marcos, California, students participate in “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

In this project, they use math skills to map out the next 20 years of their lives. They research their desired careers on and determine the amount of education they will need, and then they research colleges online and calculate their student loan payments. Gallagher has them estimate their future salaries, calculate their annual tax bills, research cars and houses online (“buying” one of each), and determine monthly payments. They even research the cost of groceries on a local store’s website. Using this information, students ­develop monthly budgets that fit within their annual salary range (after taxes, of course).

In humanities class, students ­develop résumés and write essays about the decisions they made when planning their futures. They pull all this work into a portfolio using digital tools; it applies their eighth-grade skills and serves as a road map as they move into high school. The project ends with a career fair during which students meet with local professionals for mock job interviews.

Gallagher describes this project as “one of the most impactful” for students year after year. “It makes math real for students and helps them look to their future and make tough choices, negotiations, and compromises.” He says students even learn “the most important lesson of all: that their parents are not going to pay for everything.”

Group Effort

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1; W.6; SL.1; SL.4; SL.5
What You Need: Computers or tablets, digital apps
What to Do: Community service projects are another authentic avenue through which students can document and share group work. Students can identify problems in their community through brainstorming, reading newspapers, and conducting interviews with local residents. They then vote on which problem to tackle as a group and research the problem in more depth. For example, they might document the problem of a polluted river by posting photos of the types of trash found in or near a local river, scanning the test results for pH and dissolved oxygen, and recording videos of the river’s flow at different points in time.

To begin such a project, once students have documented the problem, they work with you to brainstorm solutions and develop a plan of action. For instance, students might decide to solve the problem of a polluted river by organizing a cleanup day. (They could even connect with a scientist who studies water pollution or your state’s department of environmental protection.)

Students can put forth the research in digital portfolios as part of an educational presentation about why clean waterways are important. They could also document this phase of the project by recording interviews with residents.

Give students the opportunity to wrap up their projects by showcasing their digital portfolios to an audience that includes the principal, teachers and other school staff, classmates, community members, and parents. Digital portfolios are easy to share, especially if created on a blog or a website like Google Sites. By documenting and sharing projects via a digital portfolio, students can educate others, add to a body of research, and maybe even influence public policy. 

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